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Stars in Shorts lives up to its title by presenting a gallery of well-known American and British actors in a compilation of seven short films. Not linked by any common theme or even mood, this anthology is, not surprisingly, a bit of a grab bag. But it nonetheless offers enough pleasures to make for rewarding viewing, especially when it can be consumed in smaller doses upon its impending iTunes and PPV releases.
The collection is bookended by two amusing efforts: Robert Festinger’s The Procession, starring Lily Tomlin and Jesse Tyler Ferguson as a mother and son who get lost on their way to a burial with predictably wacky but funny results, and Chris Foggin’s Friend Request Pending, with Judi Dench endearing as a senior awkwardly navigating the intricacies of Facebook in an effort to romantically connect with her church’s choirmaster.
Most of the humor in the other films hews far darker, such as Rupert Friend’s Steve, which features Colin Firth delivering a virtuoso turn as a socially maladroit, possibly unhinged neighbor to an increasingly alarmed Keira Knightley. But for black comedy, nobody beats Neil LaBute, represented by Sexting, in which Julia Stiles, playing an aggrieved mistress to a married man, delivers a nearly eight-minute monologue directly to the camera, and as the screenwriter of Jacob Chase’s After School Special, with Wes Bentley and Sarah Paulson as single parents who have a casual encounter while watching their kids frolic on an indoor playground. Both efforts rely heavily on LaBute’s trademark twist endings, with gimmicky results. But it’s not likely that anyone who sees After School Special will forget its utterly twisted final line of dialogue.
The most raucous entry is Jay Kamen’s Not Your Time, starring Jason Alexander as a despondent screenwriter who finds his career fortunes suddenly rising after he loudly announces his intention to commit suicide. Although there are funny moments thanks to Alexander’s manic performance, it’s mainly notable for the procession of cameos by such real-life Hollywood figures as Amy Pascal, Joe Roth and Amy Heckerling.
The sole dud of the bunch is Benjamin Grayson’s sci-fi effort Prodigal, with Kenneth Branagh as the ominous representative of a villainous organization intent on capturing a young girl with psychic powers. Even at 25 minutes, it seems overlong compared to Brian DePalma’s The Fury, to which it bears an obvious debt.
Opens Sept. 28 (Shorts HD).
CAST: Lily Tomlin, Jessie Tyler Ferguson, Keira Knightley, Colin Firth, Julia Stiles, Jason Alexander, Kenneth Branagh, Jennifer Morrison, Wes Bentley, Sarah Paulson, Judi Dench, Tom Hiddleston.
Directors: Robert Festinger, Rupert Friend, Jay Kamen, Neil LaBute, Benjamin Grayson, Jacob Chase, Chris Foggin.
Screenwriters: Robert Festinger, Rupert Friend, Jay Kamen, Neil LaBute, Benjamin Grayson, Travis Crim, Chris Foggin.
Producers: Carter Pilcher, Leif Nelson.
Not rated, 91 min.
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